Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science's Greatest Idea Paperback – 5 Aug 2012
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“This beautifully written book is not only a splendid survey of evolutionary thought and its spiritual implications. It is also a significant contribution to the increasingly important conversation between the natural sciences and our spiritual traditions. Enthusiastically recommended.” (JOHN F. HAUGHT, Senior Fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center and Former Chair and Professor of the Department of Theology at Georgetown University)
“No one has their head and heart around the full range of evolutionary worldviews like Carter Phipps.” (Reverend MICHAEL DOWD, author of Thank God for Evolution)
“A profound and profoundly important new work. With clarity and deep understanding, Carter Phipps walks us through the great evolutionary pioneers and their ideas in this extraordinary philosophy, making the book absolutely indispensable for lay and professional alike. The very highest recommendation!” (KEN WILBER, author of A Brief History of Everything and The Integral Vision)
“We live in one of those rare historical moments when the deepest metaphysical questions are being turned over and examined as we search for a new orientation for the next millennium. It would be hard to find a better guide into this fascinating conversation than Carter Phipps’s Evolutionaries.” (BRIAN SWIMME, Ph.D, Director of the Center for the Story of the Universe and Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies)
“Brilliantly expands our understanding of evolution. Evolutionaries is going to help create a worldview that will influence our understanding of the future direction of evolution and also our role in consciously participating in it.” (DEEPAK CHOPRA)
“Phipps offers a challenging reexamination of the connection between the ‘evolutionary dynamics of the universe and the very being of the divine.’ ... Thoughtful and provocative.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“A masterful survey. ... Incorporates science and faith by broadening the definition and scope of what evolution is understood to be. ... Phipps’s writing projects a palpable sense of positivity and excitement for what is to come.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Essential reading for anyone who cares about humanity’s future and our role in creating a better one. Evolutionaries, is a brilliant, accessibly written, and eye-opening book” (BARBARA MARX HUBBARD)
“Evolutionaries is a tour-de-force where science, poetic prose, philosophical thinking, and authentic spiritual depth come together to deliver a powerful message of hope, optimism, and inspiration.” (ANDREW COHEN, Author of Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening)
“A rare book, equally delightful and deep, Phipps explores how our growing knowledge about the evolutionary process catalyzes nothing less than a revolutionary understanding of our selves.” (ELIZABETH DEBOLD, Author of Mother Daughter Revolution: From Good Girls to Great Women)
From the Back Cover
When it comes to evolution, we’ve all heard about fossils and fruit flies, Darwin and Dawkins. But the idea of evolution is far more profound—and far-reaching. Today, a movement of visionary scientists, philosophers, and spiritual thinkers is forging a new understanding of evolution that honors science, reframes culture, and radically updates spirituality. Carter Phipps calls them Evolutionaries. His groundbreaking book provides the first popular guide to these exciting minds who are illuminating the secrets of our past and expanding the vistas of our future.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
Carter Phipps has performed the valuable and long overdue task of building robust foundations for an expanded concept of evolution that takes it out of the clutches of narrow Darwinian, biological and scientific perspectives and explores the full cultural, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the idea. Although the notion of evolution of consciousness isn't entirely new, I am surprised at how many (well-educated) people still think of evolution as primarily a biological process (of the past) and don't realise that today evolution on our planet is primarily taking place in terms of human consciousness and culture. We are also at a cusp or critical moment in history, with mankind becoming conscious of the process and of the part played by human choice in the future of not just our species but the evolutionary process in this corner of the universe.
This makes Carter Phipps book very timely and pertinent to the critical global challenges facing mankind which will not just take all of our creativity and ingenuity but a conscious engagement in the evolution of consciousness and culture in a myriad of ways, on a multitude of levels. However, my personal cause for gratitude with this book is that I both feel recognised by Phipps' terming of `evolutionary', and can identify with so much of his exposition of the evolutionary worldview. For example, his validation of the knowledge generalist and the need to for inter-disciplinary and multi-perspectival answers to complex problems. Many of my views, values, deep intuitions and partially articulated ideas are given a clear and eloquent voice here, and in the process I feel strengthen in my own sense of purpose and passion.
Although I was already very familiar with many of the ideas and people that Phipps weaves together in his engaging narrative (most specifically I am a great fan of Wilber and an experienced practitioner of Spiral Dynamics), he has done something here which Wilber hasn't quite managed or attempted in his own writing, which I think will also be more accessible to a wider audience. For example, I prefer `evolutionary worldview' to `integral worldview' as an all encompassing high level perspective, even though in practice they are largely interchangeable. Obviously Wilber has written about a great many more things and in greater analytical depth, and Phipps is more than ready to signpost this. Coming back to the central achievements of this book, I am also grateful for the way in which Phipps draws together so many disparate strands and the works of many great thinkers in a seamless narrative that always seems to stay relevant and personal. He shows how the story of people's lives influence their work and touches on the underlying connections taking place. I also now have a short reading list of works by several key thinkers, who I had so far skipped past. He might be criticised for being too kind and uncritical of some of the thinkers he showcases, but his positive and generous approach seems to work as a whole in the confines of this book. I did wonder why he doesn't mention any of the controversies surrounding Andrew Cohen or even touch on some of the potential downsides of such guru-teacher models. Might Phipps be a bit of an acolyte of Cohen's, or is he worried about upsetting him by saying anything negative? At least with Wilber he mentions that Wilber's work has provoked much controversy and briefly explores why. However, this book doesn't present itself as a deep critique of the work referenced, and there are plenty of other places to go look for more critical views of some of these people and their work.
Yes, there are biases (e.g. his US centricity in addressing the reader), gaps and strange omissions, but he is painting on such a large canvas that there will of course be different views about how he might have gone about it. It is more important that he has attempted such a task that will help give shape and energy to the evolutionary worldview. Perhaps most importantly, he speaks in a language that many people centred in the relativistic/post-modern worldview will be able to understand and does a good job at showing the limits of their non-hierarchical and non-discriminating perspective. He has clearly drawn upon his own experience of meeting people along his own knowledge journey as a as an editor of WIE magazine. I found the book always readable (although the second section on science the hardest to wade through), and I would advise any reader to follow the course and stay the course.
Any other criticisms? Yes, but mostly in the realm of nitpicking and personal opinions. And if they were all to have been addressed this might have needed to be a much longer book. My primary criticism is that Phipps fails to provide anything more than a superficial exposition of what consciousness is and how it might be evolving. He talks about the realm of interior individual as well as inter-subjective consciousness (worldviews, cultures, etc), without really giving the reader enough to build a dynamic understanding upon. So, for example, he briefly outlines Wilber's All Quadrant All Level (AQAL) model, but doesn't then illustrate what the lines or levels of development look like in the different quadrants. One simple model of consciousness might show how it spans across different levels such as body, feelings, mind, spirit, etc, and how each level is nested in the foundations of the one below. Such an understanding is critical to realising how consciousness has evolved and continues to evolve. Human consciousness is founded on embodiment in the physical plane, in the same way life on this planet emerged out of the primordial but very physical soup. Without this basic understanding it is then easy to fall for trans-humanistic fallacies of equating mind and information, consciousness and bits of data. A computer (however much cleverer than people it may become) isn't conscious because it doesn't have feelings, and it doesn't have feelings because it doesn't have a body, or isn't embodied in the corporeal plane. That isn't to say that cybernetics and enhancing life with technology isn't possible and than a new conception of super-humanity may emerge in the future. Phipps does suggest problems with the transhumanist conflations, but doesn't explain the problems, which would have been quite easy to do. He also fails to expand the notion of lines of development that inter-lace with these levels of consciousness, e.g. cognitive, emotional, moral, spiritual, social, etc, which are critical to how individuals evolve and develop over their lifetimes. He does explain worldviews and stages of adult development (using the Gravsian model) and briefly touches on the notion of sub-personalities (albeit without any reference to Assagioli) and how these can explain different levels of development in different lines, but it would be good to have seen all of these dimensions of individual development and evolution brought together.
A final note of concern; although there is a sort of call to action in the final chapters, and many critical challenges noted along the way (e.g. the need to develop global structures of governance capable of dealing with global crises we are facing), I am left sensing a lack of urgency about where we need to go with all this. Phipps says that the emergence of an evolutionary worldview may take decades or centuries to have beneficial effects on society in the same way the benefits of the European Enlightenment took time to filter through to people's lives. This is where a paradox lies - given the speeding up of change (20 years of change at today's rate is equal to the whole of the last century he tell us), I am not sure we have that amount of time. We may need to find ways of speeding up evolution in all its human dimensions if the evolutionary future that is unfolding in our corner of the cosmos is to be a good one. Yes, evolutionaries are optimistic, but at the same time, nothing is guaranteed. And so I suppose this is for all of us to take forward in our own ways. As Carter Phipps suggests, he has helped open up a space that will need to be filled with other books, yet to be written.
Still, though, religion is not going down without a fight. What's more, even many who have turned away from religion question science's ability to provide the kinds of understandings that truly satisfy the human psyche. The problem, many believe, is that science, with its materialist explanations, fails to accommodate our deeper spiritual and moral nature. According to the author Carter Phipps, though, while science and spirituality may seem diametrically opposed, the latest developments in evolutionary theory are actually upsetting this notion.
This is the case because the theory of evolution, which was once confined to the realm of biology, has now spread to envelop every other domain of human inquiry, such that it has become the key paradigm in understanding the natural (and meta-natural) world, from biology to psychology to morality to culture to spirit to god to the unfolding of the universe. The result is that evolution can now be turned to in order to answer virtually all of our deepest and most profound existential questions, and in a unified and coherent way that does in fact satisfy our deepest spiritual longings.
More than providing just a way of understanding the world, though, Phipps argues that an evolutionary worldview provides us with a moral guide in terms of how to act, and what to strive for in life. This is the case because, to begin with, such a worldview allows us to see that human agency is possible in the truest sense of the word, and that it does indeed have an important impact. When it comes to using our agency, an evolutionary worldview prescribes working towards the good and the continued evolution of our own species, the planet, and even the entire universe. While the specifics of this enterprise remain to be worked out, Phipps hints at the idea that this project should include a system of global cooperation that features pan-governance with ecological sustainability at its heart.
At least in the near term. In the long-term, as evolution continues to proceed (perhaps at an accelerating rate), Phipps flirts with idea that the role of human agency in forwarding the evolutionary project may stretch beyond the borders of our own planet and extend even to the edges of the universe (or multiverse).
When I say that this is Phipps' argument, it is true that the author is very much a proponent of the evolutionary worldview. However, rather than focusing on his own particular views in the book, Phipps centers his attention on the theories that the leading thinkers have advanced in the field. This includes not only current theorists, but all of the major theorists that have been involved with the worldview since its inception some 200 years ago (beginning with Georg Hegel--whom Phipps identifies as the first explicitly evolutionary philosopher).
Phipps does do a very good job of outlining the theories of these major thinkers, and, through this, providing a broad overview of the evolutionary worldview. When I say broad overview, I really mean it: Phipps very much sticks to a general and theoretical exploration of the evolutionary worldview. In one sense, this is an advantage, as it allows the reader to gain a broad picture of such a worldview (to see the forest as a whole, rather than just the trees, as it were). However, the devil is in the details, as they say, and I did find that the lack of details in some cases compromised the believability of the theories (which are, in some cases, highly speculative).
Also, Phipps does well to show how evolutionary views have spilled out of science and into more meta-natural domains, such as spirituality and conceptions of god (theology). While this is no doubt interesting, it presents a problem. The approach of scientific evolutionism to spirituality and god is entirely different from an evolutionarily-informed spirituality and theology (indeed, scientific evolutionism thinks of the phenomena of 'spirit' and 'god' as products [if not bi-products] of our evolved brain, and hence ultimately illusory--or at least not 'real' in any sense like spiritual/theistically-inclined people think they are).
Given that this is the case, as evolutionary theory is pushed beyond the boundaries of science, it necessarily splits into opposing sects. This is a major problem for any supposedly whole and coherent evolutionary worldview. Phipps glosses over this issue by saying that subjective experience is every bit as important as objective reality (thus showing where he stands on the issue). While this may well be true, it is unlikely to convince any staunch scientific evolutionist that 'spirit' and 'god' are proper subjects of evolutionary theory--much less that we should be exploring and/or embracing an evolutionarily-informed spirituality and theology. As it stands, this issue is left unresolved in the book, and in fact seems completely insoluble, thus forcing us to question how viable a unified and coherent evolutionary worldview (that includes spirituality) really is.
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